By Joanne Humber, Legal Technology Skills Consultant
I have often been asked the question “Do lawyers across the world recognize that technology skills are an essential part of being a good lawyer?”
One fine response I’ve encountered was … “I did not scrape and claw my way to firm partner to replace my secretary with a laptop”. Another, reported by a senior solicitor in Australia not too long ago … “The Partner had his secretary print emails – he was in his 40s, so it is not a generational issue.”
Despite these statements, it is however recognised that the way law firms transact their business has dramatically changed over the last fifteen years, most notably with the increasing use of technology. However, process efficiencies relating to core business functions have been somewhat neglected. For example, having invested a significant portion of the IT budget in implementing Document Management Systems (DMS) to store and retrieve information, many firms have not defined the processes surrounding the production of documents, even though this is fundamental to their business.
DMS systems are now highly searchable. Firms often try to establish naming convention standards for their documents to make them even easier to find. In a briefing on legal efficiency in June 2010, Richard Susskind a trusted legal technology specialist said: “Lawyers are in the business of generating documents and for over 30 years we have had technologies that will help support this process, make it more reliable and quicker – and somehow we just haven’t embraced that.”
There is some good news in that the US Bar Associations' state, “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology … "
In a time where lawyers of all technical skill levels, paralegals, legal assistants, and others have less access to help each other due to remote working, it becomes important to consider leaning on technology to help them do more. Without that helpful colleague at the next desk, lawyers have had to become far more proficient with technology, but sadly, that has not necessarily resulted in improved productivity and certainly not in consistently formatted quality documents.
Documents are the output of legal work; the tangible and measurable return for the services provided. Therefore, as we know it’s imperative that firms ensure their documents are of the highest quality in order to maintain client relationships and reputation. We often see that when people re-use older Word documents, hidden metadata carries over into “not-so-new” documents and that this leads to inadvertent disclosure of sensitive information, corruption and in extreme cases, the complete loss of work.
Other challenges that firms experience resulting from document recycling are aplenty. Using direct formatting, as opposed to native Word Styles, inconsistent numbering, missing cross-references, undesired spacing, margins, and inconsistencies with general formatting, are just a few common challenges.
From a training perspective, introducing good working practices such as starting from the right legal document template with the desired formatting options included; not saving a copy of old documents as a starting point, and using clean content from a library will reduce time downstream. Also, as document automation increasingly becomes available, document quality and consistency will improve.
Firms have also seen success with teaching the basics of Microsoft Word – particularly those who have used the workflow-based Learning Plan “Working with Legal Documents” developed by LTC4™ to address specific skills gaps. LTC4’s Learning Plans provide a structure for technology skills training and the resulting LTC4 Certification demonstrates a firm’s commitment to better working practices and efficiency overall.
Approximately 10 years ago, a coalition of legal IT training, legal technology professionals and lawyers from across the globe was formed, their extensive experience in the legal industry led them to address the fundamental skills gaps, directly affecting a firm’s productivity and profitability. They formed the Legal Technology Core Competencies Certification Coalition (LTC4™) and voluntarily spent almost 4 years of their time identifying the core competencies for lawyers and their support staff.
The result was a set of ten workflow-based learning plans, with key learning plans focusing on working with and managing legal documents and emails; time recording, remote working, CRM and security awareness. These competencies are regularly reviewed by LTC4™ volunteers and have become the benchmark by which a firm reassures its clients that their employees not only know their tech (regardless of which applications they use) but can actually prove that they do.
As the world opens up again, clients will become even more demanding of quality and security. They will expect the firms they instruct to not only use best-of-breed technologies but also that they take document quality, cyber security and the efficient technology skills seriously. It’s hard to quantify to the end degree, but how much more reassurance would there be if a firm could state in a response to proposals that their legal professionals and support personnel were LTC4™ Certified as competent with technology and best practices including cyber security?
In lieu of the above consideration, please follow the link and review what is available to your firm corporate legal department at LTC4 Store. LTC4 is further supporting the legal sector by offering a discount of 20% on the purchase of any competency for the Legal Practice Intelligence readership.
Feel free in using this discount code NOVUM20 for your organisation to benefit.
LTC4™ is a not-for-profit organisation with the aim of improving skills across the industry and now offers its individual Learning Plans via its website with assistance with assessment towards Certification. Law firms, legal departments and law schools across the world have become part of the coalition and can use these Plans to structure their training programmes and work towards individual LTC4™ certification for their employees – there are two streams one for attorneys and another for support personnel. Certification is key – assessment methods can vary and LTC4’s own Certification Pod are there to help with their development.